Daily Archives: October 15, 2009

When narratives collide

Change.org, a social-action network, sponsors an annual blog day on October 15, and today all participants Ice Sign Sizedare writing on global warming. A friend challenged me to participate with an angle related to writing. So, Jean, here it is!

A winning narrative has emerged on global warming: the phenomenon is real and human-caused and may be ameliorated. But controversy hasn’t been laid to rest, for the issue is a surrogate for heated human differences. Some conservatives seem to feel that liberals are using this issue to advance their anti-human agenda: Smarmy and Godless! It’s maddening for liberals that some conservatives, even if they now concede climate change is occurring, contend that America shouldn’t take action because China’s now doing what we did, spewing greenhouse gases, and won’t clean up its act: Mean and selfish!

That the global warming issue became, um, polarized—political, ego-driven, partisan—is a conundrum. It’s mystifying to each side that there is another side. At base, each believes that the other’s ways are going to get us all killed. Where do these warring narratives come from? Emotions, according to my last blog post. This answer only deepens the fog, though. We have to wonder why our emotional responses are so different that we coalesce into two bitter groups.

What is the role of liberal and conservative? In my evolutionary psychology just-so story, based on theories of  John V. Wylie, I imagine that two radically different temperaments arose so that we could forge balanced couple partnerships and a social dialectic for action. Caveman conservatives sought to smite the neighboring clan before it could sneak up and do the same: “They want our stuff and are gonna kill us!” Caveman liberals said, “We’ve got plenty! Let’s be friends and share.”

Either might be right, either wrong. Picture the heated debates around the campfire. The compromise: send Moog over; he’s expendable if they cut his throat.

When the two temperaments cleaved into modern political groups, they went to war. Thus Dr. Wylie calls politics our species’ “original sin.” It’s easy to agree, witnessing the anger over any two of their clashing narratives of reality. I think we were intended by God or evolution—take your pick, or call them the same—to work together. Slashing at each other in blind rage, we may not notice when we’ve skated onto thin ice. Then we’ll all go down together.

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Filed under emotion, evolutionary psychology, narrative, politics, subjectivity